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Training FAQ

Everything you always wanted to know about training for your first, fifth, or hundredth triathlon answered in the form of an FAQ list.

FAQ Training

How do I prepare for transition?

SZ: The simple answer on how to prepare for the fourth discipline is by simulating it: You can attach a short run to every single bike ride you do to get used to running after riding. You do not have to (There obviously is more logistics involved) but come race season you at least should do one transition practice a week. If your goal is to finish or excel at a sprint distance triathlon your minimum brick should be half an hour riding plus 10 minutes running. You do not have to hustle through transition like you would in a race, but try not to take more than five minutes between the two so that your body can experience and get used to the ride-to-run feeling .
Preparing for the swim-to-bike transition is a bit trickier, because most people do not have a pool or lake from where they can emerge and directly hop on the bike. Luckily the body is more prepared to ride after a swim than it is to run after a ride. That means that you will not have to practice this transition too often. You can do push-ups to simulate the swim, wearing goggles and a swim cap, run a couple of yards to your transition station, remove goggles and cap, get into your bike gear and zoom off on your bike.
Additionally to this practical training, you might want to mentally rehearse or visualize the process. Think about what you will see after coming out of the water, what to do first, second, etc. Do the same with the bike-to-run transition: Remember to take your helmet off, to switch shoes, to rack the bike, etc. It is good if you have done that once practically. You can then also rehearse the process in your mind.

I have bought a training plan but get more to biking than to running, in fact I take the optional rest days from running whenever possible, but sometimes have extra time to bike. How does that affect my over-all training? My goal is not to place, but to finish the race strong and feeling good.

SZ: Generally the online plans are geared at playing it very safe. No plan can guarantee a finish, but the providers of the plans try to get close to that. Yet, with most plans you need adaptation to your own life. You might not be available on the days provided in the plan, but on others. So - just change your training days. Only make sure to not have hard workouts or long workouts on consecutive days. Keep the number of rest days. Cycling can be excellent cardiovascular training. If you have more time for cycling than required, just do it. Don't increase your mileage too rapidly, though. Being stronger on the bike means you are less worn out in the run. On the other hand, if you keep the minimum number of running workouts from your plan, you should be ready to race.

What is brick training?

A brick is not training loaded with heavy rocks but a combination training usually including a bike ride and directly afterwards a run. This unit gets your body used to running after cycling and prepares you for flying quickly through T2 in a race.

Do I need to run a marathon before tackling an iron distance race?

Not necessarily. Most of your training time will be spent on the bike on long rides. You will acquire the main part of your cardiovascular fitness on these rides. For some athletes a marathon is rather detrimental because running comes with the highest risk of injury. Those triathletes might do maybe a half marathon in their training and do most of their training on the bike.

On the other hand, marathon training makes you a stronger runner. You can do a phase of run training during your ironman preparation, especially if you are not prone to injuries. One possibility is a post-season Fall marathon before you go into your off-season, or an early season Spring marathon. Personally I like Spring marathons because I run in every weather but usually start to bike outdoors only in late April or May due to Chicagoland's weather. After finishing a Spring marathon you can put a higher focus on cycling and don't have to build up your running endurance.

I've done all training I planned to do and now I got sick. Can I still do my goal race?

Like so many answers to training questions: this depends...
It depends on the type of the race, the status of your training, and the type of your illness. Let's discuss illnesses first: You should never train, let alone race when you have a fever. Fever is the body's natural defense against all kinds of germs which don't thrive as well at higher temperatures. Any kind of exercise lowers the immune defense of the body, giving germs better chances on succeeding in making you sick. So, the best thing you can do when you are feverish is not to exercise. Rest until it is gone, giving your natural defense a good chance at the viruses or bacteria. This means you also should not take fever medication to get your temperature down. Those meds do not heal, they just lower your fever, make you feel better, but you certainly should not work out after taking those meds because you still are sick. A second effect of most fever medications is that they also fight pain. They can mask pain of ocurring injuries, causing those injuries to be more severe.

If you don't have a fever but just feel sick you can use the "neck-rule": If your symptoms are located above your neck (runny nose, sore throat, scratchy throat, etc) you can moderately exercise. Don't overdo it - you do not want a simple cold to become a bronchitis. If the symptoms are below your neck (bronchitis, gastro-intestinal trouble, etc) you should really take a full break for the time you feel bad. You most certainly should not race, either (even when some pro-triathletes sometimes set a very bad example with this)

The same goes for injuries, only here you might just switch your sport: if you have a running injury you might still be able to bike and swim, if you have a swimmer's shoulder, running should not be a problem. Maintain your cardiovascular fitness by cutting down on the "troublesome" sport and doing more of the sports which do not agravate your injury.
Few injuries (e.g. broken bones) will cause a complete break in training. Give your body time to heal - this will affect your ability to continue triathlon in the future.

After taking a sick-break you need to ease back into training. Don't try to make up for the missed workouts. Depending on the length of your illness, start where you left off (if you were sick less than a week) or with a lower training load. Listen to your body, a few short workouts will help you maintain your fitness level. At race day you will have done fewer workouts than your plan prescribed, but most of those plans are created somewhat redundantly. Most athletes will have to skip workouts due to sickness, due to work, stress, family and other reasons. If you haven't missed too many workouts you should be able to finish your goal race.

You will have to readjust your goals for the race. If you were working toward a PR you might not be able to reach it due to missed time. Enjoy the race, learn from it and work toward your PR at the next race. Triathlon is a fun and competitive sport but only if you do not ruin your health for it.